Native to only a tiny group of islands in the Moluccas, cloves are labor-intensive and tricky to grow. The buds turn pink just before blossoming, at which point they must immediately be harvested. One tree produces a harvest of about seven-pound. Dried cloves are somewhat fragile and easily breakable and must be handled gently to prevent the pale flower head from breaking off.
In the US, we use organic whole cloves mainly in mulling spice and to stud hams. In French cooking, a whole onion studded with cloves is a crucial ingredient to stocks. Cloves nicely compliment the flavor of beef; a clove or two make a good addition to beef stew or gravy. These cloves from Sri Lanka have a somewhat sweeter and more complex flavor than cloves from the Spice Islands.
The large amount of eugenol in cloves produces a numbing effect if you place a whole clove in your mouth. Before the introduction of modern anesthetics, dentists commonly prescribed that their patients with toothaches pack cloves around the tooth to help numb the pain.